How to Force Git Checkout (Without Crashing the Production)

Brian Bojan Dordevic
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When Developers are afraid to do the job right, they will certainly do it wrong

Most developers force git checkout the wrong way. This guide below will help you force git checkout without crashing the production (paragraph 10).

If you steal our standard operating procedures, you can avoid any further confusion with Git. Dozens of our employees tackle multi-million dollar production environments, and we open-sourced our protocols. You can download them here. If you are only focused on the Git Checkout problem, check the table of contents below.

Git is one of the most useful and widely spread tools for developers and development teams, especially those adopting agile web development. Git allows software developers to track different code modifications by storing all the various versions in a unique database, making it easy for developers to work on the same code simultaneously.

Among its many commands, the one you will use very often is git checkout, as it allows you to navigate between branches or other entities in Git. However, a situation may occur with a git repository that prevents you from switching between entities, causing trouble and hindering workflow.

If you have already faced this type of issue and still haven’t found a way around it, I understand how frustrating that can be. After working on over 500 projects at my web development agency in Chicago, I have encountered all types of roadblocks, but I also came across their solutions.

In this article, I’ll tell you how the Git checkout force works and how you can master this command to streamline your development process.

Git Checkout Table of Contents:

git force checkout

What Does Checkout Mean in Git? – And What is Force Checkout?

Git has an extensive number of commands, tools, and build features to streamline the web development process. Still, getting Git to do exactly what you want is not always that simple. Some actions, such as Git stop tracking file without deleting them, can be tricky to master.

One of the most valuable Git tools is the checkout command. The checkout process allows developers to navigate between different versions of a target entity. The command operates upon three entities. By using git checkout, you can switch between:

  • Files
  • Commits
  • Branches

There are multiple use cases for the git checkout command. Throughout this article, I’ll cover some of the most common.

There might be times when you need to switch files, commits, or branches but you have uncommitted changes that you don’t want to commit to yet. This is where git force checkout comes to save the day. By adding the -f or –force option to the git checkout command, you force Git to switch branches, discarding any uncommitted modifications or local changes in the current branch.

Scenarios Where You Might Need To Resort To Git Checkout Force

Let’s take a look at the multiple purposes or reasons why you might have to use Git force checkout:

  • Switch between branches when local changes create conflict: Git blocks any checkout action if switching between brands involves overwriting any uncommitted modifications in the current branch. Without the Git force checkout branch option, you wouldn’t be able to check out branches.
  • Restore files to their repository version after making local changes: The force command is also useful if you want to discard local modifications in specific files and restore them to the repository version.
  • Checking remote branches when the local and remote histories differ: In this scenario, you would have to reset the local branch to meet the remote one.

Using force checkout guarantees that the working directory corresponds to the target entity without any remnants of old work that could cause issues or errors in the future.

How to Command Git to Force Checkout?

If the version control system doesn’t allow you to check out a branch for whatever reason, you can still indicate Git to force checkout and switch branches. That’s possible even when you still have some unstaged changes, which means that the working tree index differs from HEAD.

Bear in mind that by instructing Git to force checkout, you are basically discarding local changes. With that in mind, let’s see which command you need to run to ignore unmerged entities and force checkout in Git:

git checkout -f <branch-name>


git checkout — force <branch-name>

How to Use Checkout to Undo Directory Changes?

You can also use git checkout to restore the file to its original version in HEAD, thus undoing all the changes made to a file in your working directory by entering:

git checkout — <file-name>

How to Checkout a Specific Commit or a File?

The git checkout command works for both commit and file levels. To checkout specific commit, you first need to know the commit ID. You can quickly get this information by running:

git log

Once you find out the ID of the commit you wish to checkout, all you need to do is run the following command:

git checkout <commit-id>

At the file level, this operation changes the file’s contents to those of the specific commit. Once you reset to a specific commit, you can pull back all the discarded commits by doing a rebase:

git pull — rebase

How to Perform a Git Checkout Branch?

As I have already mentioned in the introduction to this article, the git checkout command lets you switch between different branches. As you check out a branch, you simultaneously update the files in the working directory to match the version already stored on that branch. Also, this way, you let the version control system know that each new commit should be recorded on that branch. Now, let’s see how you can use the Git command line to check out a branch.

You can create and automatically navigate to a new branch with a single command:

git checkout -b <new-branch-name>

On the other hand, switching to an existing branch requires a few additional checkout steps. First, you need to switch to the root of the local repository like this:

cd <repository-name>

Once you are there, list all of your branches:

git branch -a

Once you get the name of the branch you wish to check out, you need to use the following command to actually switch to that branch:

git checkout <feature-branch-name>

To confirm that you are working on a branch you wish to switch to, you can use:

git branch

Git doesn’t allow checking out to another branch unless your working directory is clean since you would be losing all the changes that weren’t previously committed. That means you have three options regarding changes:

  • Discard them
  • Commit them
  • Stash them

Checkout a New Branch or Reset a Branch To a Start-point

Let’s see what happens if you use a command similar to the one you used to check out a new branch and add the -B flag along with an optional stat-point parameter. The start-point parameter refers to the name of the commit at which to start a new branch and defaults to HEAD.

Git checkout -B <branch-name> start-point

By using this command line, you are telling Git to perform one of the two possible options:

  • If the <branch-name> branch doesn’t exist, create it and start it at the start-point.
  • In case the <branch-name> does exist, reset the branch to the start-point.

You can use this as equivalent to the git branch command with the -f flag.

Checking Out a Remote Branch

Checking out a remote branch allows team members to access each other’s work to review it or collaborate. In Git, each branch serves as a separate development line, ensuring that changes don’t compromise the existing working code.

To switch and work on the remote branch, you use the same process as you would if you were to check out to a local branch:

git fetch

git checkout <remote-branch-name>

If both remote and one of the local branches have the same name (let’s call them XYZ), you need to specify the branch you wish to check out. So, to check out to a remote branch by the name XYZ, you would have to follow the next checkout steps:

git fetch origin

git checkout -track origin/XYZ

In case you have multiple remote branches, you would use:

git checkout -b xyz <remote-branch-name>/XYZ

The Best Practices for Remote Branch Checkout

Here are some of the best practices to employ when checking out to a remote branch:

  • Commit your work often: This way, you are sharing your work with other team members more often, which in turn results in fewer merge conflicts.
  • Don’t commit to unfinished work: When working on custom-coded websites or web apps, it is best to break your code into smaller working chunks. Once work on a chunk is finished, you should test it before committing it. This way, you will avoid potential conflicts that may arise when merging large bodies of code at the same time while also ensuring that you don’t commit small non-working code snippets.
  • Test before you commit: Make sure to test the code before you decide to commit it. Sharing untested code can take a considerable amount of time to merit if an issue appears.
  • Commit-related changes: Confine your commits to directly related changes. In other words, two separate bug fixes should be two separate commits.
  • Compose clear commit messages: Summarize your changes in a single message. After that, elaborate on the motivation for the change and explain how the feature differs from its previous version.
  • Exploit Git’s branching features: By using branches in Git, you separate different development lines and eliminate any confusion during a collaboration process.
  • Agree on your workflow: Ensure that all of your team members are on the same page regarding workflow even before the start of the project.

How to protect the production environment

Forcing git checkout can be risky, potentially overwriting uncommitted changes and causing data loss. To use it safely, first back up your work and create a new branch as a safety net. The correct syntax is git checkout -f or git checkout --force, but use these sparingly.

Before forcing a checkout, consider safer alternatives like git stash to manage conflicting changes, or merging/rebasing instead. If you must force checkout, communicate with your team first.

Best practices include:

  1. Use force checkout only when absolutely necessary
  2. Always work on a separate branch
  3. Commit or stash changes before forced actions
  4. Double-check the branch and commit you’re checking out

If things go wrong, use git reflog to find and restore previous states. To prevent issues, integrate safeguards into your workflow, such as protected branches and code review policies for forced actions.

Remember, while force checkout is a powerful tool, it should be used cautiously to avoid disrupting your production environment or losing valuable work.

Final Thoughts

Now you know the most common use cases of the git checkout and force checkout commands. The benefits of learning how to master those Git tools are too valuable to overlook. By applying checkout best practices you can streamline your code development workflow and improve efficiency.

Do you have more questions about Git force checkout, the checkout steps, or GitHub vs GitLab? I encourage you to schedule a call with me. Together, we can find the answers to any Git-related questions you have so you can refine your workflow and focus on writing better, cleaner code.


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